Egypt opposition needs time, or Islamists will win

The Muslim Brotherhood will be the only group in Egypt ready for a parliamentary election unless others are given a year or more to recover from years of oppression, said a former Brotherhood politician seeking to found his own party.

Abou Elela Mady broke away from the Brotherhood in the 1990s. He tried four times to get approval for his Wasat Party (Centre Party) under President Hosni Mubarak's rule, but curbs on political life prevented him doing so.

"They turned political life into a farce," said Mady, who likens the ideology of his party to that of Turkey's ruling AK Party, which has roots in political Islam but appeals to a wider electorate including more secular middle class elements as well as religious conservatives.

Mubarak had sought to bring about the "political death" of Egyptian society, Mady said.

After 15 years of trying, Mady hopes the Wasat Party will finally come into being on Saturday, when a court is scheduled to rule on an appeal marking the latest round of his battle with the Egyptian authorities.

After Mubarak's 30 years in power, the only political forces left standing in Egypt are the state and the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group founded in the 1920s and which has deep roots in Egypt's conservative Muslim society.

"If parliamentary elections happen now, the only party ready are the Muslim Brotherhood. As for the rest, they are not," Mady said. "We have had dialogue with all the parties. We ask for a transitional period for a year in which there is freedom for parties and organizations," he said. Mubarak's administration used tools including emergency laws to suppress politics. The officially-recognized opposition parties have little support.

Mady said the collapse of the ruling National Democratic Party showed it never represented a real political force.

"Parliamentary elections need time so that there is a chance for all parties to reform themselves, to rebuild," Mady said.

"At that point, a balanced parliament will emerge representing all parties without a single party forming a majority that causes concern to anyone," he said.

The Brotherhood, though formally banned, was tolerated by Mubarak as long as it did not challenge his power. Since Mubarak's rule was ended by a mass uprising, the Brotherhood has stated that it does not seek power, saying it will not seek the presidency or a majority in parliament.

The military council to which Mubarak handed power on Friday has said it will stay in power for six months or until free and fair elections can be held for parliament and the presidency.

"We can hold presidential elections soon, we have no problem with that, because it is one seat and the Brotherhood have said they will not run for the presidential elections," said Mady, who split from the movement because of what he described as its "narrow political horizons".

Mady's first attempt at founding the Wasat Party in 1996 landed him in jail. He was held for five months during a military trial, accused of seeking to set up a party that was a front for the Brotherhood.

He also drew heavy criticism from the Brotherhood, which accused him of seeking to split the movement.

Unlike the Brotherhood, the Wasat Party counts Christians among its members. "We want freedom for Islamists and secular people, for believers and atheists, for men and women, for Muslims and Christians, for women who wear the headscarf and those who don't," Mady said.

Fusing a respect for Islamic civilization with democracy, Mady expects the party to draw support from the middle classes. It supports a market-driven economy with a role for the state in defending the poor.

Without a formal license, the Wasat Party has not been able to build its membership or open offices. Under Mubarak, the head of the committee that approved all parties was also a top official in the president's ruling party, giving it a veto.

"We hope that the prevailing atmosphere of freedom will influence the court in its ruling on Saturday," Mady said. 

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